Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at UNSC briefing on the political and humanitarian situation in Syria
We thank Geir Pedersen and Martin Griffiths for the briefings on the political and humanitarian situation in Syria.
It is Russia’s unchanging position that there is no alternative to a Syrian-owned and Syrian-led political process carried out under the UN mediation and given full respect for the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of Syria without any external interference.
In this regard, we consistently support the efforts of SESG Pedersen taken in the framework of his mandate as stipulated by UNSC resolution 2254, the key element of which is Syria’s Constitutional Committee. Mr.Pedersen, we note the efforts you make to depoliticize the Geneva platform, ensure resumption of Committee’s regular sessions, as well as your engagement with Syrians on that matter, including during your visit to Damascus earlier in December. We proceed from the assumption that further decisions as to the modalities of subsequent rounds of inter-Syrian consultations need to be made by the Syrians and be free from any external pressure.
The situation in Syria’s north continues to raise concern. Military operations in Aleppo, Raqqa, and Hasakah have caused deaths not only among the Syrian military, but also among civilians, including representatives of the media, and destroyed civilian infrastructure. Against this backdrop, we condemn the continued illegal attacks of Israeli air force. In November, at least two such cases were reported – an attack on the Shayrat military airfield located to the east of Homs, and also strikes from the Mediterranean targeting Syria’s central and coastal areas which killed 6 Syrian military servicemen and wounded 4 more.
We are convinced that a lasting stability and security of Syria is only possible once sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country are fully recovered, illegal foreign military presence terminated, and efforts to turn Syria into an arena for settling geopolitical scores discontinued.
It pains us to see the humanitarian and socio-economic situation in Syria deteriorating. Basic food basket costs more than the average income of most Syrians. Together with high inflation rate and devaluation of the Syrian pound, the number of people in need of assistance (by UN estimates) will surpass a record high in 2023 and amount to 15 million people. Against the backdrop of fuel shortages, there are dramatic energy blackouts. In some provinces, electricity is available only for 20 minutes once every 5 hours, i.a at critical infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, and municipal facilities.
Protracted water crisis and dilapidation of related infrastructure triggered an outbreak of cholera in September in Aleppo province, which then spread not only throughout the rest of Syria, but also to the neighboring Lebanon. The reports that half of the world’s supply of cholera vaccines was sent to Syria are encouraging. However, the WHO epidemic response plan has been financed only by one third.
Speaking about the positive dynamic, which is very modest, we can point out the allotment of 43% of funds for the implementation of UN humanitarian response plan (which is still not enough as M.Griffiths said today), the dispatch of the ninth convoy from Aleppo to Sarmada and plans to dispatch the tenth one, and also ensured access to Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. As a matter of fact, those are the very basic results, and it took the UN way too long to achieve them. It is hard to get rid of the feeling that one spends much more effort trying to prove the indispensability of the cross border mechanism (CBM) than arranging cross-line deliveries.
Let’s be frank and admit that the humanitarian situation that is unfolding in Syria at the moment does not create a favorable context for renewing the CBM. The point is not that we are against helping ordinary Syrians, as some delegations try to present it today. The point is that the global community should be helping all Syrians wholeheartedly, without discrimination and politicization, and that is exactly what we stand for. But unfortunately, there is still a long way to go before this can be achieved.
We can say that in the past six months, our Western colleagues have not changed their opportunistic approach to this matter. They can be compared to an indolent student the night before the exam – meaning that they only remember about the provisions of UNSC resolution 2585 and 2642 when those are about to expire, and try to convince everyone that in the previous six months they had worked tirelessly on implementing those.
This is not quite so, to say the least. Despite the three rounds of informal interactive dialogue that we have had, the overall picture with the CBM has not become transparent. Representatives of UN agencies and Western donors only go around in circles, fiddle with figures (i.a. with regard to early recovery) and try to show how much effort they make, while carefully evading the questions that we raise.
But even this “decoy tactics” cannot conceal the plain fact that geography of early recovery projects in Syria is characterized by an inexplicable and unjustified imbalance. Half of the donor money goes to Idlib, 15 % to cross-Euphrates area, and only 35 % goes to Damascus-controlled areas, where most of the population lives. Those figures eloquently evidence how politicized the discussion of the Syrian file is, and with what neglect Western donors treat UNSC resolution.
Add to this the absolutely unacceptable striving of Western states to preserve the wrongful and illegitimate sanctions against Syria, which have a detrimental effect on the life of ordinary Syrians. Contrary to obvious facts and conclusions of authoritative experts, the West tends to explain all problems that Syrians may have by the allegedly incompetent acts of the authorities. When we raise those issues, i.a. at the mentioned IIDs, Western delegations say this is an unrelated matter. How can one be talking about help for Syria while trying to hold this country by the throat?
Another taboo topic is the issue of creating artificial obstacles impeding the return of refugees to Syria from the neighboring states. Not only Damascus and the refugees, but also Syria's neighbors are interested in such a scenario. However the United States and the allies are not okay with that. They believe that after a mass return of refugees to their homeland, the Syrian government may receive vast political dividends. Then again, as in the case with sanctions, the West prioritizes its own goals over the interests or even lives of ordinary Syrians. What do you think the Syrian side holds of this? What are the reasons for Damascus to believe the hypocritical and opportunistic Western promises? Does it help if Damascus will recall how the West nurtures the HTS terrorists in Idlib, who keep profiteering from the humanitarian deliveries via the CBM due to a lack of transparency of this mechanism? Or does it help that commitment to sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria stipulated in the resolutions is but an empty sound for the West?
Now with all this put on one scale, imagine what needs to be put on the other to justify another 6-month renewal of the CBM by Russia? Let me say right away that you points about alleged lack of alternatives to the cross border mechanism do not convince us. This lack of alternatives is only maintained by your idleness.
Perhaps, some new arguments in favor of the CBM will emerge in this meeting. But so far they have been very few.